Follow @frozenroyaltyEL SEGUNDO, CA — After making quick work of the Vancouver Canucks, sending them off to an early summer vacation after just five, first round playoff games, the Los Angeles Kings have a commanding 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven, second round series against the St. Louis Blues, with Game 4 coming up today, at noon PDT (Staples Center in Los Angeles).
As one of the many clichés about playoff hockey goes, a team’s best players must be just that if that team expects to be successful in post-season play, and for the Kings, that has been exactly the case.
Indeed, the Kings’ top players, including Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Justin Williams and Jonathan Quick, have outplayed their counterparts on both the Canucks and the Blues, and, quite frankly, the comparisons aren’t even close.
Most visible have been Brown, Kopitar, and Richards along with Quick in goal. But according to one, well-versed observer, one other has topped them all.
Following his team’s practice on May 5, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock told the media gathered at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California that Doughty has been the best player in the first three games of the series.
“I think the biggest thing that he does is absorb checks, [and he] gets the puck out on his own,” Hitchcock told the Los Angeles Times. “That’s what [Blues defenseman Alex] Pietrangelo does. It’s a very unique skill. Certain defensemen, there’s maybe ten guys in the whole league that can do it, and Doughty and Pietrangelo are the two guys.”
“They can absorb a check and lug the puck out themselves,” added Hitchcock. “You can’t find that very often. That’s what [Doughty] does. You think you’ve got him, he pulls away on you. You think you’ve got him pinned on the boards, he pulls it off the boards and makes the play. Both guys are great at it.”
Whether or not Doughty has been the best player in the series is certainly debatable. However, what has become quite clear during the playoffs this year is that he has taken great strides in terms of his maturity, which is apparent in his play, and in how he carries himself off the ice.
“My first three years, I was naive,” Doughty explained. “I thought I was that [hot] young guy, and I didn’t have to do [the off-ice regimen]. But I’m starting to realize that off-ice is so important—getting good meals into you, getting good rest, being in the gym, taking care of your body. You just feel so much better out there.”
“Even though this is my worst season [in terms of offensive numbers], I still felt a lot better out there,” Doughty elaborated. “Conditioning-wise, health-wise, I’ve felt really good. I felt stronger.”
Doughty’s teammates have taken notice.
“He’s gone through a lot over the last few years,” said Brown. “He’s grown up a little bit, in terms of off-ice, taking care of himself. Even this year, his practice habits have progressively gotten better.”
“You see him in the weight room more, and not only that, but it’s not someone dragging him in there like it was during his first couple of years,” added Brown. “That’s the one thing that stands out to me. Little things like that add up. I mean, I wish I had someone to drag me into the weight room when I was 18 or 19 years old. But I learned it, eventually, on my own. He’s starting to do the same thing.”
On the ice, Doughty’s offensive numbers have declined considerably from the 2009-10 season, when he scored 16 goals and tallied 43 assists for 59 points, and was a finalist for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, awarded to the National Hockey League’s best defenseman each season.
In fact, Doughty had his worst season offensivel this year, scoring just ten goals, while contributing 26 assists for 36 points.
Doughty was a contract holdout throughout training camp, putting him way behind his teammates in terms of being in game shape to begin the season. His season got off to a very slow start, and his game had its highs and lows all year.
“I think [his season has] been up and down,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “He’s had games where he’s been not as good as others, and he’s had games where he’s been really good. But the one thing that’s consistent is that he wants to do well. That’s the best part of it.”
“You’ve seen him at the top, you’ve seen him struggle,” added Sutter. “There’s not many guys his age in the league who play that position, play that many minutes, and in that many situations, so there’s going to be peaks and valleys. You’re just trying to keep it as even keel as possible.”
That the 22-year-old native of London, Ontario consistently plays against the opposition’s top players, at his age, is worth noting, because of the great responsibility that he must constantly carry on his shoulders.
“From a hockey standpoint, those first few years, he was really good offensively,” said Brown. “He’s getting better defensively, and it’s a process for him, because now, he’s not so much under the radar. Night in, and night out, he’s playing against the other team’s top line, and that a big responsibility for a guy as young as he is. There’s not many guys who can do that, and he’s handling it pretty well.”
With all that responsibility and skill, Doughty might as well wear a big, red target on his jersey.
“What gets lost in the shuffle with Drew is that everyone compares [him] to his Norris [finalist] year,” Brown explained. “Now, he’s probably a better player. Everyone forgets that he’s playing against every team’s top guys. Especially in a playoff series, you’ve got guys trying to run him, left, right and center.”
“That’s what you have to do with a player like Drew,” Brown elaborated. “He’s a pretty elusive guy, so you have to try to get hits on him when you can, and I think that’s something he’s starting to understand. The type of player he is, he’s going to have to deal with that kind of pressure.”
“[On Thursday], he had a breakout game. He was huge for us on the offensive side, but everyone forgets how good he is in the other end of the rink. A lot of our success, even in the first series, is because of him shutting down top guys.”
Doughty recognizes his responsibilities better now, and has made a conscious effort to improve his defensive zone play.
“Throughout the whole playoffs, I think I’ve played pretty well, defensively, and that’s my main objective, playing against the other team’s top line,” he noted. “I have to be at my best every night, on the defensive end of the puck. I’ve really focused on defense a lot. I think my defensive game has gotten so much better, especially since my first two years. I think a lot of that has to do with maturity, and learning the game.”
“Offensively, I always want to be able to contribute,” he added. “I haven’t been as much this year, but to get on the scoreboard last night, and help our team win, was a great feeling.”
When it comes right down to it, Doughty is still just 22 years old, despite being in his fourth season in the NHL.
“Drew is an awesome, awesome kid,” Sutter stressed. “[But] he’s no different from any other kid at that age. If you can help him along, awesome. Last night [Game 3 on May 3]? He didn’t need any help, but maybe there’s a night where he does need help, or a moment when he does need help. But, other than that, [you have to] be careful with it.”
“Put yourself in the same position,” Sutter added. “Where were you when you were his age? We were still deciding what we wanted to do. Were we a freshman, or a junior, or looking for a job? They’re just kids. Drew’s a kid. I have kids older than him, so I try to handle him like I would handle my children.”
Raw Audio Interviews St. Louis Blues vs. Los Angeles Kings, Game 3, May 3, 2012
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Justin Williams (2:33)
Jarret Stoll (1:05)
Darryl Sutter (6:49)
Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock (3:25)
Raw Audio Interviews: Los Angeles Kings, May 4, 2012
Dwight King (1:47; poor audio quality; increase volume to listen)
Matt Greene (5:20)
Dustin Brown (12:36)
Drew Doughty (9:23)
Darryl Sutter (14:56)
Raw Audio Interviews: Los Angeles Kings Practice, May 5, 2012
Justin Williams (4:11)>/p>
Drew Doughty (4:16)
Dustin Brown (4:25)
Darryl Sutter (7:44)
2012 Western Conference Semi-Final, St. Louis Blues vs. Los Angeles Kings, Game 3 Highlights, May 3, 2012
Tickets for the Kings’ upcoming home playoff games against the St. Louis Blues – May 6, 12:00 PM (Blues vs. Kings: Game 4); May 10, TBD (Blues vs. Kings: Game 6 – if necessary), are available from Barry’s Tickets, an official partner of the Los Angeles Kings. Use the code, “Royalty010” to get a 10 percent discount on their “Best Value” tickets.
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